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Current Winner - 2020

Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering

Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering

Department of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry

University of Toronto

Although she originally considered becoming a doctor, it was a love of the lab and discovering new knowledge that ultimately inspired Molly Shoichet to focus her talents on engineering the future of medicine. That inspiration launched her on a career that has made remarkable discoveries, fundamentally advanced biomedical engineering research, and is putting the next generation of medical treatments within our grasp. Shoichet’s development of ‘hydrogels’ delivered a crucial breakthrough for researchers. Scientists could already grow cells on two dimensional plates, but these strategies are inherently limited. Humans are three dimensional beings, after all, and in order to mimic the way cells grow in us, a three-dimensional system is required. Shoichet invented a series of hydrogels that enabled cells to grow in complex three dimensional environments, thereby enabling researchers to gain insights not previously possible.

In recent years, the Shoichet Lab at the University of Toronto has led the development of several game-changing applications for hydrogels in the areas of tissue engineering/regenerative medicine and pharmaceutical testing. One early success showed that her hydrogels promote stem cell transplant survival, which is key to restoring vision, and repairing the stroke-injured brain and the injured spinal cord. In another collaboration, Shoichet’s innovation allowed researchers to mimic the conditions of a rare lung disease, then rapidly screen hundreds of drugs to zero in on promising treatments. This process, both faster and more thorough than earlier tests, can now be used in labs around the world to search for cures to other disease conditions.

Outside of the lab, Shoichet strives to share her knowledge and to engage the public in the people and ideas shaping the future of Canada. A dedicated science communicator, she has highlighted the work of her lab and others’ through engaging public talks, science-themed art installations, and Research2Reality – a social media initiative that uses the power of film to tell research stories with and about a diversity of Canadian researchers.

In recognition of her outstanding accomplishments and discoveries, and for her advancement of scientific knowledge and innovation, NSERC names Molly Shoichet as the 2020 recipient of the Herzberg Gold Medal.


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